FROM A DISTANCE the new Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston looks modest. A simple box on the harbor, in scale with the other (scant) buildings there, it eschews the sculptural iconicity that many art institutions have lately embraced. It is only when you round the austere edge of the building and see how its top floor cantilevers boldly over the boardwalk that you are struck not only by its physical presence—from the harbor it will indeed be a landmark, especially when aglow at night—but also by its architectural intelligence, for here the diagram of the design becomes immediately clear.

In effect the architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro first opened the narrow path of the Boston HarborWalk into a broad platform of wooden planks, which they then stepped up to produce a public grandstand for outdoor performance.1 This slope extends to the height of the first floor, which, faced with

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